8 Do’s and Don’ts of Coffee Dates

“Coffees from hell” is what lawyer Erin Cowling calls this popular form of networking. Cowling’s article in Precedent magazine (Winter 2017, p. 39) describes the types of people she regrets meeting for coffee.

Many of us use coffee dates as a way to conduct a job search, generate business referrals, gather information or to simply stay in touch. So, if we have the best of intentions when setting up this meeting, what happens?

It goes unplanned…

Here are 8 job search tips that are sure to impress the likes of Cowling on your next coffee date!

  1. Do make your outreach email short and don’t ask for a job. One study found that lawyers, on average, receive or create more than 70 documents (including emails) every day. Make it easy for the person and get straight to the point: invite them out for coffee. Don’t go into your life’s story! Be discerning and understand your initial objective of reaching out to them.I also believe that your outreach communication shouldn’t ask for a job. You should be reaching out to the person based on a shared interest (ie. the fact that they work at a firm you are interested in, or the fact that they practice in an area you are trying to better understand). Don’t be fooled, the person you’re reaching out to likely knows you’re looking for a job. Plus, you’ll have a chance to talk about your job search once you meet. In the meantime, keep your outreach concise and to the point.
  2. Don’t ‘wing it’! Beyond the basics of researching the person’s profile and profile of their firm, have a purpose for reaching out to the person.  When I’m working with clients to develop a job search strategy, I get them to create a list that captures the people and places they want to reach out to. This list could include employers that my clients can see themselves working for or ones they are curious about or individuals who represent the kind of work that my clients are interested in. Working backwards from a constructive purpose gives a focus to coffee dates and avoids the Saviour Seeker attitude that Cowling talks about in her article. Remember: desperation isn’t cool.
  3. Do have some questions prepared even though you want to the conversation to be fluid. Again, work backwards from your purpose. If, for example, you are looking to transition into a new practice area, then you likely have a reason in mind. Come up with questions that will allow you to determine whether this new area is suitable for you. When conducting a job-search, think about questions that would give you information to include in a cover letter. Understanding an employer’s challenges and problems is a great way to stand out in your application materials, so learn as much as you can.
  4. Do follow up on a lead immediately if the person offers to connect you with someone else. I’ve experienced a few of these situations myself. I went out of my way to make a connection for someone and then learned that they didn’t take prompt action. This is disappointing because it leads to me one of two conclusions: you don’t really care about your job search or you’re too self-absorbed to appreciate what goes on behind the scenes to make such a connection happen. Don’t delay!
  5. Do know when to end the meeting. If you scheduled the coffee date for 30 minutes, you should be wrapping things up at the appropriate time. You want to be respectful of people’s time and show that you are being considerate. If, on the other hand, the person tells you they can stay for longer, then by all means, extend your coffee date
  6. Don’t expect to get referrals. It will be the norm that you don’t get any referrals from your coffee date. But if you’ve prepared properly, then you should be walking away with something valuable. If you’re not, then re-visit points 1, 2 and 3. If you go into the coffee date thinking that the person is going to immediately call their managing partner and ask them to hire you, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
  7. Do send a “thank you” email the next day and promise to stay in touch. Sending a note is obvious, but I also want you to highlight a memorable part of the conversation. Show the person that you were listening and care about what they shared with you. Diarize to follow up with them once a month thereafter. Sending short notes until something materializes will remind them that you are still looking for work and will give them a call to action.
  8. Don’t stop there. Now that you’ve made contact with all these people, they are officially part of your network! Invite them to your LinkedIn network, and continue to stay in touch with them throughout your career i.e. once or twice a year, or more if you develop a closer bond. Focus on developing the relationship and look for opportunities to help that person in return.


How will you set up your next coffee date for success?

If I can be of any assistance to you in executing a networking strategy, whether for business referrals or a career transition, please don’t hesitate to set up a 30-minute complimentary call with me to learn more.

This article originally appeared on AWAL.


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